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How much do the Nationals have to spend in 2016?

Nov 11, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

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They’ve hired a new manager, begun putting together a new coaching staff and made decisions regarding several new free agents. So now the Nationals, like all MLB clubs, are transitioning into full-blown Hot Stove League mode, the focus now on 2016 roster alterations.

Some clubs will undergo massive roster renovations. Others will make only a few tweaks here and there. The Nationals? They’re probably somewhere in the middle. Obviously, they’ve got several big-name free agents moving elsewhere. And they’ve got several other current players who could or could not figure into next year’s plans.

A full-on roster makeover doesn’t appear to be in the works, not with a considerable amount of talent still in place to make a serious run in 2016. But there is plenty general manager Mike Rizzo could do if he wants to do it.

As always, though, there is a key underlying factor to it all: Money. How much do the Nationals have to spend this winter?

The answer: A pretty decent amount, maybe as much as $30 million if they’re willing to match this year’s payroll.

The Nationals’ official 2015 payroll clocked in at $165,480,095, which ranked fifth in the majors, according to Spotrac. Now, that doesn’t mean the Nats actually paid out $165 million in salaries. Remember, players are paid based on how much time they spend on the big-league roster. (A rookie who spent part of the season in the minors, for example, only made a prorated fraction of of the league’s $515,000 minimum salary.) And there are bonuses and other assorted fillers that count toward payroll (for luxury tax purposes) but aren’t actually paid out. (Max Scherzer’s official salary is $22,142,857, but the Nats are only paying him $15 million a year, with money deferred until next decade.)

The actual cash the Nationals paid out to players this season was $124,077,067, which ranked 11th in the majors, according to Spotrac. But for these purposes, we’re going to use the payroll figure, because those are the numbers that overwhelmingly show up in public.

So, how much have the Nationals already committed to next year’s payroll? Below is a list of 2016 salaries for a full, projected roster (25 healthy players plus anyone who will start the season on the DL). It also includes dead money being paid to two players whose contracts were bought out (Casey Janssen and Nate McLouth). Players who are still arbitration-eligible or have fewer than three years of big-league service time don’t have set salaries yet, so the figures below are estimates, using MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration calculator.

Keep in mind this won’t be the Nationals’ actual 25-man roster come Opening Day. It’s simply a look at who the 25 guys would probably be if the season began today. Which, of course, it doesn’t…

SP Max Scherzer $22,142,857
OF Jayson Werth $21,571,429
1B Ryan Zimmerman $14,000,000
SP Gio Gonzalez $12,100,000
RP Jonathan Papelbon $11,000,000
SP Stephen Strasburg $10,500,000*
RP Drew Storen $8,800,000*
IF Yunel Escobar $7,000,000
C Wilson Ramos $5,300,000*
OF Bryce Harper $5,000,000
IF Danny Espinosa $2,700,000*
IF Anthony Rendon $2,500,000*
RP Craig Stammen $2,400,000*
RP David Carpenter $1,500,000*
C Jose Lobaton $1,500,000*
OF Tyler Moore $1,000,000*
SP Tanner Roark $550,000*
RP Aaron Barrett $540,000*^
1B Clint Robinson $535,000*
OF Matt den Dekker $525,000*
RP Blake Treinen $525,000*
OF Michael Taylor $525,000*
SP Joe Ross $520,000*
RP Felipe Rivero $520,000*
RP Matt Grace $520,000*
IF Trea Turner $515,000*
RP Casey Janssen $1,500,000#
OF Nate McLouth $750,000#
TOTAL $136,539,286*

*-Estimated 2016 salary
^-Will open 2016 season on DL
#-Dead money from contract buyouts

So, that’s $136,539,286 committed to 2016 payroll at the moment. Which means there’s roughly $30 million to spend if the Nationals are willing to match this year’s payroll. There are, however, some other places where they could create more money to spend.

This assumes no players are traded, which is probably an assumption we shouldn’t make. The Nationals have several options in this regard, whether in the form of Drew Storen, Jonathan Papelbon or Yunel Escobar. They also could field offers for Stephen Strasburg, though keep in mind that as was the case last winter with Jordan Zimmermann, they would want a boatload in return for the right-hander (who will be a free agent 12 months from now).

There are a few candidates who could be non-tendered, most notably David Carpenter and Tyler Moore. Either or both of those moves would clear up some money.

Point is, the Nationals should have the financial wherewithal to make significant moves this winter. Maybe they won’t invest $20 million a year in another superstar free agent. But they have the ability to add several prominent veterans to the mix, whether via free agency or trade.

  1. ehay2k - Nov 11, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    Thanks Mark. Maybe the next post can be about the impact of RSN revenue on payroll? I’d really like to see what the Nats could do with a payout from MASN.

    TMo needs to get traded, perhaps included as part of a package. He is totally blocked.

  2. joemktg - Nov 11, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    MZ: have they established their budget for the 2016 draft?

  3. janebeard - Nov 11, 2015 at 8:32 AM

    I agree that it’s probably best for TMo to go to a team that has a place on the field for him. MAN I hope we don’t lose control of Strasburg, the way we did of JZimm. But I guess that just opens the coffers to keep Bryce the following year.

    Today is the day they have to either accept the QO, or declare free agency, I think. Is that so?

    • janebeard - Nov 11, 2015 at 8:32 AM

      And by “they” I mean Ian and Jordan.

      • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 9:11 AM

        I think it’s Friday.

      • kirbs3256 - Nov 11, 2015 at 9:19 AM

        Friday at 5 PM. They have 1 week to respond to the QO.

    • chaz11963 - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:23 AM

      I wold doubt any team would want TMo. More likely they just outright him.

  4. jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 9:19 AM

    I have a hunch that Rizzo wants to tinker with the overall makeup of the team. Here are some things to consider:

    1) The team is extremely right handed.
    2) The infield picture is very muddy.
    3) There is no real long term solution for 1st base behind Ryan Zimmerman.
    4) left field defense is shaky.
    5) center field is still an open question.
    6) Bullpen is in shambles.

    Rizzo doesn’t have to resolve all of these issues but I have a feeling that he will want to tackle some of them. I don’t think he will let the Stras situation be the same as the JZim situation. I think he will try hard to come to terms with Boras on a long term deal but if that fails I see us moving Stras for a package including either a decent starter or a top reliever plus a top level prospect on the verge of the majors and another good prospect who is a few years away.

    • kirbs3256 - Nov 11, 2015 at 9:24 AM

      If that is the order-I think bullpen is no doubt number one. But if not, I think your list is spot on.

      BTW, a muddy infield is a terrible thing. 🙂

    • veejh - Nov 11, 2015 at 9:31 AM

      We need a leadoff hitter.

      • veejh - Nov 11, 2015 at 9:39 AM

        ….and don’t tell me Werth will be our leadoff guy next year until Turner can take over.

      • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 9:59 AM

        I think lineup construction is less of an issue. Someone who gets on base a lot like Rendon can leadoff at least until Turner is deemed ready to take over.

      • veejh - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:06 AM

        That would be a waste of the power that will return next year for Rendon.

      • alexva6 - Nov 11, 2015 at 5:53 PM

        Werth will be our leadoff guy next year until Turner can take over

    • kkpp3 - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      What about Alex Gordon? Left handed hitter. Excellent fielder in left.

      • kkpp3 - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:03 AM

        Then move Bryce to center, Werth to right.

    • jfmii - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:41 AM

      3) no long term solution – Zim. Zimmerman is what, 30? Same age as the solid left-handed backup, Robinson. In my opinion, no long-term solution necessary

      • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 12:19 PM

        Yeah, I don’t think you want Robinson to be the fall back every day solution. Would be nice to have someone at say high ‘A’ ball maybe a left handed hitting 1st baseman. I agree that this is not an emergency at this time but it’s a to do item in the next couple of years.

    • tcostant - Nov 12, 2015 at 9:47 AM

      I still don’t understand why Rizzo doesn’t do what the Giants form GM (Sabin?) use to do. Hw would spend under his budget by 8M or so, and then that would give him the option to add twice that salary at the trade deadline (since your only paying half the year). Don’t spend ever cent you have.

  5. jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    I think that teams that don’t end up with Price, Greinke, Cueto or JZimm will be in the market for someone like Stras. I think Boston has a lot of pieces they can trade as do the Cubs.

    • virginiascopist - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:14 AM

      Didn’t Rizzo try to negotiate a trade of Stras to Boston last off-season without success? Now with only one year left for him he will generate considerably less in return and would leave us down three starting pitchers from last year’s opening day unless we go out and sign a SP ourselves. I just don’t see it happening. The Cubs have the resources to obtain the SP help they need without trading for it.

      • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:27 AM


        There are 3 options:

        1) Sign Stras long term (it takes 2 to tango).
        2) Let Stras play out the year, lose him to free agency and collect a draft pick (The JZim way).
        3) Trade Stras for an attractive package, resolving some of the issues I mentioned earlier.

        I contend that option 3 is better than option 2. You can always sign a tier 2 free agent pitcher to fill some of what you lose with Stras.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:44 AM


        I agree that option 3 is better than 2 in a perfect world. If Rizzo could have gotten an adequate return for Stras (or even JZim or Fister) last off-season, after Scherzer was signed, I was all for it. But it’s not so easy now as we don’t have Stras’ replacement ready until Giolito comes up (which no one thinks will be until later in the season), and this is all, of course, assuming that everyone else is/stays healthy.

        As indicated, we could certainly head out on the FA starting pitcher market ourselves. I guess it depends what kind of a deal Rizzo is offered for Stras.

      • texnat1 - Nov 12, 2015 at 6:28 PM

        Option 3 is better only if you are willing to significantly reduce the odds of winning this season.

        If you do that, you should also trade any other player who will be a free agent after next season who you can’t or dont’ want to extend.

    • chaz11963 - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:26 AM

      I don’t see them trading SS if they are truly still in Win Now mode. They would need to get a FA SP, and no way will they pay for the level of a SS.

      • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:32 AM


        You don’t need to sign a pitcher of Stras’s level you can sign someone like Samardza or Chen and even though you are losing some quality you are also using the opportunity to replenish the team. If you keep going for it and losing key players to free agency every year with only draft picks in return you are allowing the window of opportunity to close.

      • trfwans - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:38 AM

        If they go into spring training with Roark and Ross penciled in as the no. 4 and 5 starters they are in big big trouble. Rather than trading SS, more likely they keep him AND acquire another starter like Chen or Samardzjia.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:49 AM

        “… acquire another starter like Chen or Samardzjia.”

        Or maybe Cueto who wouldn’t cost a draft pick.

  6. Kenz aFan - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:12 AM

    Unless the rules for buy-out payments changed, those payments have always been considered as being part of a team’s current payroll and not part of the upcoming season. So those payments shouldn’t be counted. Think of it as a bye bye bonus for 2015, not a here’s a little start money for 2016.

    Also, Jonathan Papelbon will only be getting $8 million from the Nats in 2016, with $3 million being deferred to 2017. That’s $5.25 million more they have to spend.

    Too bad the Nats are stuck with Werth and his dead weight contract, because his best days are long gone. Having a $21 million a year bench guy makes no sense, besides, he’s just not that good, or versatile. You don’t pay a guy to be a great clubhouse/dugout guy.

    • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:22 AM

      Kenz aFan,

      When that contract was signed it was always a possibility even probability that the last couple of years would be problematic. Cumulatively, Werth has earned his contract so far. I don’t think it’s fair to make a blanket judgment the way you do based on an injury plagued year. In 2014 Werth was very good and there’s a decent chance he’l be fine in 2016 probably not $21 mil worth but that’s a sunk cost. So no he won’t be a bench player in 2016 but he could well play in a lot less games even when healthy.

    • Doc - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:29 AM

      JDub probably can still give the Nats a good AB, but not Werth it at $21mm. LF will continue to be a weak part of the Nats offense and defense.

      Best to try a DH trade to the AL and swallow some of the $21 million. This situation was predicted when Rizzo signed him 5 years ago.

      • ArVAFan - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:54 AM

        Remember JDub has a no-trade clause. So he’d have to waive that.

      • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:57 AM

        You’d have to swallow most of it, at least $10 mil per year and you won’t get much in return but I do agree with you that Werth would be better served if he has a DH role going forward.

    • jfmii - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:45 AM

      How can you say his best days are long gone? His numbers in 2014 were quite impressive

      • natsred4dndc - Nov 11, 2015 at 6:44 PM

        And for that matter the 6 weeks or so of 2015 when (a) he was healthy and (b) there was still something to play for.

  7. erocks33 - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    I don’t know why, but I keep thinking that the Nats will do another big trade with the Padres. We would send them Strasburg and one of Storen/Papelbon for Craig Kimbrell, one of Tyson Ross/Andrew Cashner plus some other prospects (from the Padres).

    • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:29 AM


      That makes a lot of sense on many levels especially if Tyson Ross is in the package.

    • veejh - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:29 AM

      Why would they want Stras, and Storen as they’re both on final deals and they’re not competing next year……and, I doubt they do business with Rizzo again after he fleeced them for Turner and Ross? They’ll want to level that trade out.

      • langleyclub - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        The Padres would only want Stras if they had strong signals from Boras that he was inclined to re-up with his home-town team. The Padres are done dealing prospects for two reasons: a) they are in rebuild mode; b) they don’t have many prospects left.

        Agree that Rizzo may make a block-buster trade this off-season. Everyone on the roster is tradable except for Bryce and probably Giolito. I will be shocked if they go into the Spring with the current middle infield options.

  8. Potsy - Nov 11, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    Can we package Stras and Storen for a Kimbrel package?

    • veejh - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:14 AM

      Again, why would the Pads want two 1 yr contracts?

    • jfmii - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:48 AM

      Kimbrel isn’t that good, especially last year.

  9. erocks33 - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    How about Gio to the Yanks for Brett Gardner?

    • jfmii - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:48 AM

      If I’m Cashman, I don’t do that one.

      • thewerthwhisperer - Nov 11, 2015 at 12:27 PM

        One of the talking heads suggested a Strasberg/Storen to the Yankees for Miller/Gardner.
        This is not as crazy as it sounds, IF they could also sign David Price or another frontline starter.

  10. kirbs3256 - Nov 11, 2015 at 12:35 PM

    Nationals GM Mike Rizzo says that he’s yet to receive any inquiries on right-hander Stephen Strasburg but has received calls on both Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon (via Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link). James Wagner of the Washington Post, however, adds (via Twitter) that Rizzo says he won’t move either reliever unless he receives a “real baseball offer.” Many have speculated that the Nats will sell low on Papelbon following his altercation with Bryce Harper and will be forced to do the same with Storen after the Papelbon acquisition strained his relationship with the team. Rizzo’s comments, on the surface, suggest that that’s not the case, though he clearly wouldn’t come right out and say he was looking to move either right-hander.

  11. jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 1:27 PM

    ‘With $210 million already tied up in Max Scherzer and top pitching prize Lucas Giolito on the way, the time is now for Washington to cash in on Strasburg’s potential. It’s much more prudent to get a treasure trove of prospects for him now then it is to let him walk for nothing but a compensation pick next offseason. ‘

    Courtesy of Luke Strickland from bleacher reports.

    • infideljack - Nov 11, 2015 at 2:01 PM

      Maybe a deal with the Royals?

    • trfwans - Nov 11, 2015 at 2:24 PM

      Sure, if you’re punting 2016. Which Rizzo and the Lerners most certainly aren’t.

      • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 3:13 PM

        I don’t agree. If you want to have a team which contends annually you need to have a steady pipeline of less expensive players. If you keep losing players to free agency every year and you don’t have a volume of depth to replenish your window will eventually close.

        My 1st preference would be to sign Stras to a long term deal but under no circumstances do I let Stras walk away for a compensatory draft pick. You can win with what we have and pitchers such as Samardza, Leake and Chen would be absolutely fine when you already have Scherzer, Gio, Ross, Roark and Giolito coming. The Royals won the world series with: Cueto, Ventura, Volquez and Young.

        Right now we can’t compete with the Mets rotation because they are all young and not making any money. That will begin to change over time and they will all become expensive and the Mets won’t be able to keep them all. That’s just the nature of the game.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 11, 2015 at 3:34 PM

        Although certainly not common, those compensation picks can be very valuable (e.g. JZim being the result of the compensation pick for Alfonso Soriano). Therefore, if we were to sign a SP, I would rather it be someone without the QO attached to them. As others have indicated, I am concerned about the depth of the rotation (and even more so if we were to deal Stras and not replace him). The 2013 Nats suffered greatly from a lack of SP depth when Ross Detwiler got injured.

  12. Ian scuttlebutt - Nov 11, 2015 at 1:44 PM

    I think you have to move Strasburg this offseason and get something in return. The guy is amazing when healthy and in the groove but it’s too much of a risk to sign him long term for 25 million a year and have him miss 5-15 starts every year. Also if they resigned Fister on a one year cheap deal and the starting rotation is Scherzer, Gio, Fister, Roark, and Ross opening day that’s still good enough to make the playoffs.

  13. Von_Bluff - Nov 11, 2015 at 2:02 PM

    For the love of baseball, just buy Bryce Harper’s soul for whatever he wants!

    • ArVAFan - Nov 11, 2015 at 2:23 PM

      from your lips to the Lerners’ checkbook!

  14. raleighnat - Nov 11, 2015 at 2:07 PM

    I think they need another starter and for Roark to get first shot at being #5 with Ross as depth. Harper needs to be extended. The Bullpen clearly needs to be rebuilt. We need to remember we have to keep up with that ridiculous Mets rotation – Gio, Roark, and Ross on the back end isn’t good enough in my view. But that means we need a pitcher significantly better than Gio, Roark, or Ross and that will require big money. What about Lackey? Expensive but probably short years?

    • Doc - Nov 11, 2015 at 2:09 PM

      Lackey, are you joking?

      • Susanfaulkner - Nov 11, 2015 at 2:59 PM

        Not Lackey. Don’t want him on my team. Oh and if we would get Samardzjia could they put in the contract that he has to shave that 70’s porn stache.

      • langleyclub - Nov 11, 2015 at 5:10 PM

        Last off-season, Rizzo reportedly considered offers for Jordan Zimmerman last year, and didn’t deal him. Easy to see the same thing happening with Strasburg. The Nats will not get full value for Strasburg at this point because he is a one year rental as Boras is committed to taking his clients to free agency (as he will do with Harper). Of course, Rizzo would deal Strasburg if the right offer is made in return, but the Nats aren’t getting a treasure trove of talent for one year of Strasburg.

        My guess is that the Nats will keep Strasburg, and hope that he continues on the run that he finished the year with. Scherzer and Strasburg have the potential to be the best 1-2 starting combination in MLB. The Nats are fine with Gio/Roark at # 3 and 4, and the best of Ross/Cole/Giolito/Voth or some cheap FA pick up at #5 (the Nats had Chris Young in camp last year; he ended up as the AL Comeback POY in 2014 and the #4 starter on the World Champs in 2015), The Nats don’t need to dip deep into the money pool to fill the #5 spot in the rotation. The Nats have devoted enough of their team resources (starting pitching is the deepest team area in the organization) to starters.

        With the available money, the Nats need to rebuild the bullpen, and add a left handed bat (who is strong defensively, and can run at least a little bit). Unfortunately, the word is that two of the FAs that the Nats covet (O’day and Zobrist) are getting love throughout MLB; so, unlikely that there will be any value there.

      • jd - Nov 11, 2015 at 5:45 PM


        Lots of pitchers have been dealt with 1 year left on their contracts including David Price, Sabathia, Greinke and more. And the returns have always been good, better than a compensatory pick. I think the Stras situations and the JZim situations are not exactly the same. Stras is younger and with a higher upside.

        I also don’t buy that you can’t make a deal with Boras before free agency. You just have to pay free agency money and by doing so early you also mitigate the risk of injury and below expectation performance. I am sure that if you expect to get a home town discount Boras will tell you he’l take his chances in free agency but if you put a serious package in front of him I bet he considers it.

      • langleyclub - Nov 11, 2015 at 6:04 PM

        Would love to see the Nats sign Bryce, Stras and/or Rendon (all Boras clients) to long term deals. Boras has made his reputation by taking players to FA; everyone knows that when Bryce goes to FA he will sign a deal that will go light-years beyond what any MLB team has paid for a player. Boras lives for that moment (Bryce won’t mind it either).

        Not saying the Nats shouldn’t try, but I don’t see Bryce agreeing to a deal before FA for any of his Nats; particularly not Bryce. I would put the chances at far below slim, and only marginally better than none.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 11, 2015 at 6:06 PM


        Regarding your analogy to pitchers being dealt with one year left on their contracts, IIRC, Price was traded to Detroit with 1-1/2 years left and then, to Toronto with 1/2 year left. The others (Greinke and Sabathia) were traded from what would be considered, even in the off-season, non-contenders.

        Regarding Boras, I wonder how many of his clients have signed extensions before free agency. I know Elvis Andrus did; I’m sure there are others, but none are coming to mind at the moment.

  15. mwgchess - Nov 11, 2015 at 11:15 PM

    We need to fix the bullpen, Ross and Roark are fine even good for 4 and 5 starters. I would deal Stras away for a package with some good prospects and a 3/4 starter.

  16. ballgrindM - Nov 14, 2015 at 6:32 PM

    What about Strasburg, Espinosa, Storen, Taylor and Fedde to KC for Cain and Holland/Herrera? I can see them doing it because they upgrade at their weakest position (2B) and get a decent replacement for Cain in Taylor. They’re in win now mode, so the addition of Stras for a year to that shaky rotation goes a long way. They probably don’t say yes since Cain is such a hero in KC and it’s hard to justify breaking up a team that just won WS but they really need pitching and this probably makes them better. Plus they get a solid pitching prospect in Fedde. From our point of view, we lose one year of Stras, Espinosa (who we don’t have a place for in the inf anyways) and we acquire a very solid back of the bullpen guy and a perfect CF/leadoff man for our team next year.





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